The NHL's decision to threaten Marc-André Fleury and the Minnesota Wild with fines if the goaltender wore a custom mask for Native American Heritage Night added to the embarrassment many hockey fans feel about how the league is viewed by fans of other sports.
SAMANTHA CHANG: It was basically the least surprising thing possible, right? Like, what you expect from this league at this point is poor decision making. And I think-- I mean, the thing is this was a policy that when it was implemented at the start of the season got immediate critique, not just from fans, but from players, including Connor McDavid-- and obviously, in the specific context of pride tape. But, like, even the discussion back then, I think it was clear from the start that this policy was poorly thought out.
And, like, what were-- what did they think they were going to do at that point? Like, you saw it play out already with Travis Dermott putting the pride tape on. And I think that's what people said from the start-- like, one player will violate the ban, and what are they going to do, suspend him? Fine him for using pride tape? Like, think about those headlines. Like, you don't need to think 10 steps ahead to do that.
That's literally the next step when you think about policy making. And then you have this whole thing-- you had Michael Russo reporting that they told the Wild that they were going to fine the team if he did this.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yes.
SAMANTHA CHANG: And immediately, people were like, that's absurd given the cause. And, like, then what ended up happening was he wore it anyway and they were like, yeah, cool. Breach our policies. We don't actually care. So, like, what was the point of this entire thing?
Like, we were told at the start of the season, oh, there was too much outcry around seven players refusing to wear pride jerseys. They wanted to shut the conversation down. Well, congratulations. What you did was make there be multiple conversations about how incompetent you are at doing anything.
And you look absolutely terrible. Like, both in the case of Dermott and in the case of Fleury, you just look like a ridiculous league. Like, what was the point of any of this?
JULIAN MCKENZIE: The one thing I'll say, and it was-- it's something I've thought about for a good while and it was mentioned on one of the podcasts I had to do on Monday-- the fact that we're at a point where we have seen people go against this rule and not be punished for it-- what's going to happen if someone-- what's going to happen if the league decides, OK, now is enough and you can't do this, you can't violate this rule? And, as has been brought up on other podcasts, what if it happens when someone decides to, for lack of a better term, get geopolitical about the statements that they do on their helmet or stick?
Maybe they want to rep a particular country. Maybe they want to free a particular-- free a particular country. You guys are getting what I'm getting at here? Like, what if it gets to that point where they have to deal with that. What the hell is going to happen then?
OMAR: Yeah. And that's the thing. I don't think the league thinks about that stuff, like, at all. And I remember we were having the conversation even last year where-- last year, at the beginning of this season, and the idea of just, like, it fixes the problem at the time that they felt that needed to be fixed, but actually went on to make it worse, and, again, make the league look worse, and make the conversation around the league look worse. And it's something that truly puzzles me a lot is I wonder if the league thinks about how non-NHL fans think about the NHL.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: No.
OMAR: I don't think they do.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: No.
OMAR: And I think that-- and every year-- and almost it seems like every month we get more and more examples of them not doing that at all. They don't think about how non-NHL fans think about the NHL. They don't think about how non-hockey fans see the league and how horrible it can look if a player gets fined-- sorry, if a team gets fined because one of their players decided to wear a helmet to represent a cause on that night for their organization.
So I really don't-- so I really don't think-- I really don't think that they're thinking those things through. And if that's the case, then it's only going to get worse from here.
SAMANTHA CHANG: The one time they thought about growing the game with non-traditional fan bases, they signed Josh Richards or whatever, like, that TikTok guy's name is--
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Oh, the TikTok guy.
SAMANTHA CHANG: One year contract as a youth ambassador. Did you see a single thing from him after that announcement?
JULIAN MCKENZIE: No, man.
OMAR: I saw him at a Tampa game.
SAMANTHA CHANG: No.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah, there was a Tampa game he was at.
SAMANTHA CHANG: Like, other than that, there was absolutely nothing. They were almost universally ripped for that. And it's like, do you even-- like, who is doing any thinking in the league's front office-- like, anything other than, like, pure reaction? There is no long term thinking in terms of growing the game or outreach here.